|30 January, 2019

Interview: Saudi Arabia's Qiddiya project master plan to be finalised by end of Q1 - CEO

Construction work for the multi-billion dollar entertainment city will start this year

Qiddiya CEO Michael Reininger talks during an interview with Reuters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia April 18, 2018.

Qiddiya CEO Michael Reininger talks during an interview with Reuters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia April 18, 2018.

REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

Saudi Arabia’s multi-billion dollar Qiddiya project is all set to finalise its master plan by the end of first quarter of 2019, said Michael Reininger, CEO, Qiddiya Investment Company (QIC), in an email interview with Thomson Reuters Projects.

QIC, which is driving the project, is a closed joint-stock company wholly owned by Saudi sovereign wealth fund Public Investment Fund (PIF).

In the following quarter, he added, QIC will open its Visitor Experience Centre (VEC) which will “give a taste of what to expect at Qiddiya on the opening day and beyond”. 

“This year will be about increasing our workforce to ensure we have the right people on board to help us create this unique city, as well as beginning the construction,” noted Reininger.

The mega entertainment project, which broke ground on a 334 square-kilometre site, 40km away from downtown Riyadh, in April last year, is expected to open its first phase in 2022.

The Kingdom’s first-of-its-kind entertainment city will have a number of attractions including high-end theme parks, water and snow-based activities, sports arenas, racing tracks, and an array of historical, cultural and educational activities and events.

“Qiddiya will be an integrated destination forming the capital of entertainment, sports, culture and the arts in the Kingdom. It will be a catalyst for national transformation creating a richer life for Saudi citizens while spurring innovation in the creative, hospitality and entertainment sectors,” he said.

While Qiddiya hasn’t officially announced the exact cost of the project yet, a Reuters report in April 2018 had cited local media reports to suggest that it would cost around 30 billion Saudi riyals ($8 billion) to build the infrastructure alone, making the project worth tens of billions of riyals. 

While the majority of the contribution is set to come from PIF, Qiddiya will also seek a broad range of financing from local and international sources, including bonds, direct investment and other tools, the Reuters report said, quoting Reininger.

Investment opportunities

Given that private participation is being sought, the project will offer “huge opportunities” not just for local investors and developers but also international parties, the CEO noted. 

He said: “There will be opportunities across all sectors for businesses of all sizes – large, consolidated investments in areas such as infrastructure, and many small and medium-scaled opportunities around particular asset classes or businesses.”

However, he pointed out that the most potent opportunities are “where investment capital comes with innovative ideas, additional capabilities such as operational expertise, or other value-adding positions that contribute to the ability to advance the agenda of the project”.

Reininger, who had spent 12 years with The Walt Disney Company, overseeing large-scale resort developments in Florida and Europe, explained that the project “sits at the centre of an enormous, untapped market” as it has a young population, 58 percent of which is under the age of 35, who crave entertainment.

“There is nothing like Qiddiya in the whole country, perhaps in the region, so there’s no significant competition currently for what we will offer,” he said.

This is also a “first-mover” opportunity, said Reininger, “As we will be staking out a first-of-its-kind position and will ultimately be the market maker and leader in these new economic sectors.”

“From a business perspective, it is clear that investors will be able to reach a valuable and previously untapped market with this project,” he concluded.

(Reporting by Ameen Kader; Editing by Anoop Menon)

(anoop.menon@refinitiv.com)

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